I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tales, myths and legends. You might even have noticed a fair degree of inspiration in my stories, so when I saw a course about Fairy Tales on FutureLearn, I jumped at it. There are some great short courses, by the way, in so many different subjects and interests that I challenge anyone not to be able to find something of interest. Anyway, I digress… the course Fairy Tales, Meanings, Messages and Morals, delivered by the University of Newcastle in Australia, was a delightful dip into the world of literary analysis by exploring the meaning of fairy tales.
The course takes participants on a journey from the early origins of sixteenth century French writer, Charles Perrault, through to the more recognisable tales of the Brothers Grimm. We studied some familiar stories, starting with Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard, exploring the significance of cultural context and looking for meaning. It was fascinating to then delve in and discuss the relevance to a modern audience, also spreading our writerly wings with our own versions.
Analysis of my all time favourite, Beauty and the Beast, led me to revisit some more modern versions, including; Beauty by Robin McKinley – an extraordinary retelling that is close to the original, but will enchant fans and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas – a gritty and romantic Fae Fantasy that departs somewhat from the original, but still holds its own. My all time favourite, which also departs significantly from the original, but I deem to be of the same ilk, is Robin McKinley’s Sunshine – a modern version with vampires and a hauntingly romantic tension that grips you from the start and just won’t let go long after you’ve finished the book.
I am currently reading Mageborn by Jessica Thorne, which is a gripping dark fantasy with all the familiar elements that drew me to love this fairy tale inspired genre. Check it out… now I’m off to continue my binge before the workday steals me back to reality.
Looking forward to attending Surrey New Writers Festival on Saturday 8thJune in Guildford. Fantastic programme of events for the day including; panel discussions, readings, masterclasses on pitching to an agent and building your career as a short story writer. There will be a wellbeing table, with the opportunity to chat about your work, a poetry stage, headline readings and an evening soiree. Phew! That’s a lot to pack into one day, but well worth the price of the ticket (with lunch included). Check out the link above to find out the finer detail.
What I’m really interested in is a panel that I will be chairing on the theme of ‘Female Futures’. We will be discussing the future of women’s writing, as well as women writing the future in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I will be exploring this theme with Kate Potts, whose second poetry collection, Feral, sets out to explore and trouble the boundary between ‘animal’ and ‘human’; Stephanie Saulter, who is the author of novels Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, a science fiction trilogy which uses the lens of an altered humanity to take a new look at the old issues of race, class, religious extremism and social conflict; and Kerry Drewery, the YA author of Cell 7, Day 7 and Final 7, a dystopian trilogy which takes a sinister look at the future of the justice system. Join us on the 8thJune for what promises to be a fascinating discussion.
During the day, we will also be launching our third print issue of the Stag Hill Literary Journal, carrying the same theme of Female Futures. My story, Shooting Stars, will appear in this issue; a time-travelling alt-history look at one hundred years since British women were given rights to vote. Copies of the issue will be available for purchase and we will also be doing readings during the day.
Look forward to seeing you there!
Very proud to have my work featured on the Newham Writers Workshop – published authors page. I was a member of the group in the early days of my writing career, when I was just working out what kind of a writer I wanted to be. It was an inspirational experience and one that I could highly recommend to any writer who is looking for a like-minded group of people to hang out with. I would also say that getting feedback on your writing progress is fundamental to the journey – wherever your writing goals may take you and is essential to the creative process. As a writer, you are often blind to failings in your own work that others with a more impartial view are able to see.This is how we improve our work.
Here are my top tips for receiving and using feedback from anyone and it is relevant to any genre of writing:
- If someone tells you that something is wrong, they are probably right. If they try to tell you how to fix it, they are probably wrong.
- Try to forget feedback at least for a couple of days. If you can’t forget it, then there is probably something in it. If you can’t remember the feedback, it probably wasn’t useful.
I’ve been a member of a few different groups over the years, always seeking out the opinion and expertise of others and sometimes, it is good just to know that other people face similar challenges and setbacks along the way.
These days, due to work commitments, I mostly hang out online – the British Science Fiction Association has some very good online groups, as well as regular face-to-face meet ups. I also used to spend quite a bit of time with the wonderful folks at the Litopia Writers’ Colony, which I can heartily recommend. But Newham Writers was my first experience of giving and receiving feedback in a workshop environment. So I am especially delighted to have my books listed on their website.
Allan Lanner has just turned sixteen and is about to find out a truth about his history and his parentage that will rock his very existence. Tasked with delivering a sword to a beautiful Countess, Allan encounters a number of challenges, which lead him from being held captive by brigands, to being rescued by a troop of southern chevaliers, then finally finding his way to Castle Helmstedt and an audience with the King.
Countess Demaris Del’oro is from a small town in northern Arrontierre, where she has just come into the rights to her land and title. Sent to Carentan for an arranged betrothal, she meets Allan at the smithy where she chooses a new sword. Meanwhile, a legendary Klagen figure resides in the northern forests unaware of his future destiny with his own secret agenda for vengeance. Read more…
Last Friday, I attended a fascinating workshop facilitated by Caitriona Fitzsimons, the creative practitioner behind One Fine Morning. The workshop was designed to explore creativity through techniques traditionally used to teach drama that have been adapted for writing. The technique used is called ‘given circumstances’, which is particularly useful for character-driven stories, as it has been adapted from the Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski, who is well known for his unique system of training actors, often referred to an ‘method acting’. Stanislavski believed that in order to convincingly portray a character, an actor should prepare by immersing themselves in the situation of the person, fictional or otherwise. As a fiction writer, it is also necessary to profile your characters and their circumstances in order to be able to walk in their shoes. During the process of writing, you become the character, and as such your descriptions are richer and more convincing.
The Story Development Workshop enabled its participants to map the process of character development across a story arc from beginning to end, using global themes, thematic statements and ‘given circumstances’ for the characters in the story. It was an immersive process which involved collaboration and interaction between participants that resulted in an agreed final story, told by the participants to each other as a group.
If you are struggling with an idea and are not sure how to structure or develop your story, this workshop will give you some practical tools in order to move your creative thinking forward. I particularly liked the interactive nature of the session, as writing can be quite an isolating endeavour. This approach allows you to explore ideas in a safe environment and often, one comment or observation from another participant can open up your mind to all sorts of possibilities. It also gives you the opportunity to road test the credibility of an idea from a global story perspective, and see how each individual story element fits in to the whole structure. An inspiring experience and highly recommended!
Check out One Fine Morning for future workshop dates.
I was inspired by an article I read in The Conversation about why the teaching of creative writing matters by Simon Holloway, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Bolton, who says that ‘very few students will earn a living as a writer. But writing is about more than that, and the ability to communicate effectively is a rare and precious thing’.
There is mixed opinion about the benefits of undertaking a course in creative writing; Hanif Kureishi, author of The Buddha of Suburbia, famously said that creative writing courses are a ‘waste of time’.
By coincidence, I was recently invited back to my university to talk to the MA Writing students about my experience of the course and what I have gained. It is only a year since I graduated, so it is still fresh in my mind, but talking it through with a group of engaging peers at various stages of their careers helped me to reflect on and consolidate my own experience.
I thought it might be useful to share some of my reflections in the hope of reaching out to anyone out there who is at a cross roads and trying to decide the best route to take.
It is unfortunately true to say that few creative writing students will earn a living as a writer, but even as I sat in front of this year’s cohort and asked them what they most wanted to learn from me, many said it was how to earn a living from writing. Although I have a full time day job as well as being a writer, this is perhaps one area in which I can add some valuable insight. I work in graduate careers and employability, and much of the advice that I offer students in preparing for the jobs market is transferable to writers preparing their work for publication. In fact this is the one area where my day job and my writing work find a happy coexistence. Here are my top tips for getting a job and/or getting published. Read the rest of this entry →